Centre's Access to Information on Electoral Bonds' Donors Is Unfair: Opposition

Congress MP Rajeev Gowda said that apprehensions about donor anonymity could have prevented people from donating to other parties.

New Delhi: The prospect of the Bharatiya Janata Party using classified information on donors of electoral bonds to its advantage was raised by a number of opposition leaders at a ‘jan manch’ (people’s conclave) on the electoral bond scheme organised by various people’s movements and groups here on Wednesday.

Congress MP Rajeev Gowda led the charge by stating that when Arun Jaitley, as finance minister, announced the electoral bond scheme, he claimed that it would usher in transparency in political funding. But, Gowda said, information obtained through RTIs has revealed that the scheme was pushed through by the Centre despite objections being raised against it by the Election Commission, the Reserve Bank of India and the law ministry.

Donors are anonymous for public, not government

Gowda said that the BJP gained much from the scheme because of the way information on donors was treated. “While it was said that donors would remain anonymous, information accessed by RTI activists had shown that the State Bank of India knew the details of purchasers and as each bond has a unique serial number, the government could effectively get details about who purchased the bonds and track them.”

This apprehension, he said, could have prevented people from donating to other parties and led to the BJP  getting over 90% of the electoral bonds in the past few years. “This means that only the funding being given to the ruling party is anonymous as the opposition and people don’t know the source of funds and therefore it is not surprising that the BJP has been the biggest beneficiary of the scheme – cornering over 90% of the known donations.”

Also read: Electoral Bonds: Here’s What the Numbers Say

The Congress MP said his party has been categorical in its demand that the electoral bonds scheme be scrapped and the names of all donors should be placed in the public domain.

Gowda said in light of this, the importance of the RTI Act needs to be underscored since it was only through queries under it that details of the electoral bonds were obtained. The Congress, he said, would oppose the regressive RTI rules that the Centre had brought about following amendments to the Act.

‘Electoral bond scheme encourages crony capitalism’

Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury too demanded that the electoral bonds scheme be scrapped. Terming it “anti-people”, Yechury delved into how he had filed a petition in the Supreme Court too in this regard.

As for his party, Yechury said that the CPI(M) supported peoples’ struggles and would also oppose the regressive RTI amendments. He accused the BJP government at the Centre of selling the country’s resources and encouraging crony capitalism by bringing in a scheme like the one for selling electoral bonds.

Communist Party of India general secretary D. Raja too accused the BJP of not being concerned about real issues concerning ordinary citizens and instead focussing on issues that divide the country on who is and who is not a citizen.

Visuals at the Jan Manch on December 11, 2019. Photo: AnjaliB_/Twitter

He insisted that the electoral bonds scheme was aimed at skewing funding in favour of a particular political party and that a major challenge ahead lay in countering such money power in politics.

Also read: How Finance Ministry Decided RBI’s Dissent on Electoral Bonds Meant ‘Indirect’ Approval

For free and fair elections, he said it was necessary to provide a level playing field to all the political parties through equitable resources and funding.

‘Centre is against transparency’

Raja also accused the Centre of trying to wield excessive power over institutions. He said the government amended the RTI Act to control the functioning of information commissions by bringing the salaries and tenures of commissioners under it despite objections from opposition parties and RTI activists. “This government is against transparency as it does not want people to question it,” he charged.

Referring to the numerous attacks on RTI users and whistleblowers across the country, Raja demanded that the Whistleblowers Protection Act be operationalised at the earliest.

At the jan manch, a two-minute silence was also observed in the memory of Abhimanyu Panda, an RTI user who was shot dead in Kandhamal, Odisha on December 10. It was pointed out at the gathering that more than 80 such RTI users had been killed in the past few years and the government still had not operationalised the Whistleblower Protection Act that was passed in 2014.

Also read: ‘RTI Bill Shrouded in Secrecy, How Will it Enhance Transparency?’ Ask Former CICs

‘Parliament, RBI misled on scheme’

During the meeting, Anjali Bhardwaj and Venkatesh Nayak of NCPRI shared details of the information obtained under the RTI Act regarding the electoral bonds scheme which showed how the government had misled Parliament and RBI.

Another activist, Nikhil Dey raised concerns that the Data Protection Bill, which was introduced in Parliament on Wednesday could end up diluting the RTI Act.